A safe vehicle employs high-quality hardware that contributes to the construction and handling of the vehicle.
i. Construction sheet metal
Often, in an attempt to reduce costs, manufacturers skimp on the quality of sheet metal used to fabricate the body of the vehicle. Poor-quality sheet metal and inferior painting techniques can cause rust to spread and weaken the overall structure of the vehicle. A safe car not only uses good-quality steel, but also good painting techniques, such as electronic primer deposition for rust inhibition.
ii. Wheels, suspension and brakes
The wheels, brakes and suspension are tuned to operate optimally in certain conditions, and they can be pushed only slightly to operate in unfavorable conditions before they becomes unsafe.
A safe car design would incorporate running systems that can occasionally operate well in unfavorable conditions without risking the occupant’s life.
Racing tires, for example, are usually devoid of tread and grooves, which are meant for water displacement. While they can be used on the roads, it is unsafe to do so, as they run the risk of losing traction on wet surfaces. Similarly, a soft suspension that is good for absorbing road bumps cannot be repeatedly subjected to off-road situations where traction and a stiffer suspension hold greater priority.
A safe car is designed with appropriate illumination systems that not only light the way ahead in the dark, but also make the vehicle conspicuous in the case of heavy rain, foggy weather etc. Well-designed lights should illuminate the way in front, but also around the car to assist when taking turns in the dark.
3. Electronic driver assistance systems
While nothing can replace a driver’s instincts and judgment, embedded systems do assist the driver in significantly improving vehicle safety. Here is a list of electronically assisted safety systems that are found in the average passenger vehicle:
i. ABS and EBD
The Antilock braking system (ABS) and Electronic brake force distribution (EBD) work in conjunction during sudden and heavy braking to prevent the wheels from locking up. The forces that activate the brakes are then distributed more evenly to decelerate the vehicle in a controlled manner.
ii. Blindspot and Lane departure assistance
Vehicle geometry and driver position can often result in no visibility for certain areas behind and towards the sides of the car. Blind spot monitoring forewarns a driver so they can make the necessary adjustments to their path and prevent impacting any objects in such areas.
Lane departure assistance similarly allows drivers to ease onto a main road from a by-road without colliding into vehicles that come up from behind them at high speeds.
iii. Heads up display
A heads-up display, or HUD, displays important information like speed, gear rank, and sometimes even map directions on the windshield of the car, directly in the driver’s field of view. This enables the driver to make decisions without having to look away from the road to find relevant information.
iv. Driver attention monitor and alarm
Certain vehicles have systems to analyze steering behavior to determine driver fatigue levels and prevent vehicles from veering off course. They alert the driver by means of an alarm and encourage the driver to pull over and rest.
v. Tire pressure monitoring systems
Tire pressure monitoring systems use sensors at the tire stem to determine tire pressure and display real-time data on the instrument cluster. They denote whether the car is running on optimally inflated tires, thereby allowing the driver to inflate/deflate their tires as required.
vi. Adaptive cruise control
Adaptive cruise control takes the speed of the vehicles ahead into account and slows down the vehicle without the driver’s input, based on the distance between the two cars.
vii. Traction control
Traction control systems detect free wheel spin and redistribute power from the driveshaft to prevent vehicles from getting stuck in low-traction situations.
More on active safety
Active safety also depends on the upkeep of vehicles, along with the driver’s skill and foresight. A car with good active safety measures in place does not really need passive safety systems in ideal scenarios. However, accidents primarily take place in situations that are beyond human control, which necessitates elaborate passive safety systems being in place. We will discuss passive safety systems at length in the next article.
Now, let’s discuss passive safety features in a car…
While purists may often brag about the way old cars can stand up to any modern car in terms of their virtually indestructible build, it is often overlooked that modern cars are designed to crumple to ensure occupant safety. Old cars with their indestructible construction, however, cannot boast a similar safety quotient.
Provisions of passive safety come into action when an accident has occurred. Thus, the role of passive systems is to ensure that minimum damage is done to human life, even if it comes at the cost of destroying the vehicle either partially or fully. Passive safety systems comprise various elements. Comprehensive crash tests and each car’s subsequent ratings are essentially a test of the effectiveness of the passive safety parameters.
Let’s spend a bit of time exploring each of them in detail.